Diagnosing Addison's disease, also called adrenal insufficiency, can take some time because the initial signs and symptoms are similar to several other conditions, such as chronic fatigue syndrome, the flu, and depression.
Signs and symptoms tend to develop slowly and may take some time to be recognized.
Fainting is one of the more dramatic symptoms of Addison's disease.
Initial signs and symptoms include:
- lack of motivation, lack of drive
- drowsiness and lethargy
- muscle weakness
- mild depression, changes in mood and personality
- hypovolemia - or low blood volume
- unintentional weight loss
- loss of body hair
- lack of appetite
- hypotension - low blood pressure
- difficulty in standing up
- muscle and joint pain
- craving for foods with a high salt content, due to urinary loss of sodium
- hypoglycemia - low blood sugar
- irregular menstrual periods, in some cases periods are missed completely
- sexual dysfunction (in women)
- psychosis (very rare)
Some individuals may experience orthostatic hypotension, a sudden drop in blood pressure, especially when going from seating or lying position to standing. TYhis can cause fainting.
Another common symptom is hyperpigmentation - darkening of an area of skin or nails. In cases of Addison's disease, hyperpigmentation typically occurs in the creases of the palms of the hands, scars, knuckles, or knees.
Another illness or accident may cause symptoms to worsen suddenly.
Acute adrenal failure
Severe vomiting is a symptom of acute adrenal failure.
Acute adrenal failure is also known as Addisonian crisis or adrenal crisis. Adrenal crisis is a medical emergency and can cause death if medical care is not sought immediately.
Sometimes the signs and symptoms of Addison's disease may appear suddenly, as may be the case with acute adrenal failure.
Signs and symptoms may include:
- psychosis, confusion, or altered mental status
- severe abdominal pain
- elecrolyte abnormalities, such as hyperkalemia - high potassium- or hyponatremia (low sodium)
- extreme muscle weakness caused by electrolyte abnormalities
- arrythmias (from hyperkalemia)
- loss of consciousness
- acute back or leg pain
- clinically significant hypotension (low blood pressure) or shock, which may lead to organ damage or failure from lack of oxygen
- severe vomiting and diarrhea that may cause dehydration
An adrenal crisis may occur if the Addison's disease is left untreated, allowing levels of cortisol and aldosterone in the body to gradually drop. It may also happen if someone who has been taking steroids for a long time stops suddenly.
Read more about Addison's disease here: